AZUSA, Calif.-- After blowing a 3-1 lead in game one to lose 9-3. After giving up a go-ahead grand slam in game two. After allowing two runs in the top of the 10th inning. After being down to the last strike twice. After all of the ups, and the countless downs, you couldn't blame the Cougars if there were a couple frowns in the Azusa Pacific dugout. But the Cougars’ never give up attitude, which was translated into a ‘no sad faces’ mantra in the Cougar dugout following a heartbreaking loss, led Azusa Pacific to its second come-from behind walk-off win in as many nights.
Azusa Pacific, which has had its fair share of wild games in the past two days, capped a three-run 10thinning with a two-run, full-count single by Richie Brown to clear the bases and empty the Cougar dugout while securing a series split with Hawai’i Pacific. The Cougars held a 3-1 lead in game one, but gave up eight runs in the top of the ninth to fall 9-3, before a tug-of-war of lead changes ended with Azusa Pacific on top in an 8-7 game two victory.
"If there’s one thing that this team understands, it’s adversity," head coach Paul Svagdis. "That’s a great thing about having an opportunity to coach or play. We’ve lived through adversity for 12-14 weeks. And one of the things I can say is that the guys show up to practice and try hard, and come to play every game. It’s a great example of life. Things don’t always go well, but you have to wake up the next day and try to change the way things are going."
All four games in the series with Hawai`i Pacific resulted in come-from-behind wins, with both Cougar wins coming in walk-off fashion. Azusa Pacific trailed 7-5 as Brown stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs following an intentional walk to Brendan Casey. On the second pitch of the at bat, each runner advanced a base on a wild pitch, cutting the deficit to one, and putting the game-winning run in scoring position. Then on the 3-2 pitch, Brown went with an outside fastball, driving it into the opposite field to knock in the game-winning run.
"I got to full count, and I was nervous until then," Brown said. "I looked up at the scoreboard, and I realized... this is why I’m out here. It was fastball and I just went with it. It was awesome to come away with a win and celebrate with the team."
It was Brown's second walk-off hit of the season. Caleb Badder earned the win, while Edward Trovato and Jeremy Fujimoto each had blown saves, as Fujimoto was saddled with the loss.
Ryan Henley gave the Cougars a 3-1 lead with a two-run blast in the fourth inning. Hunter Brown had been stellar through the first five innings, striking out seven and only giving up one run, but the junior ran into trouble in the top of the sixth. Marvin Campbell, who had already homered and doubled earlier in the game, stepped up to the plate with runners at second and third. The Cougars elected to intentionally walk Campbell, which didn’t pay off as the following batter, Kale Sumner, crushed a ball into leftfield for a grand slam to take a 5-3 lead.
As they had done all series, the Cougars created a little two-out offense in the bottom of the sixth with a walk, sandwiched by two singles, to cut the lead to 5-4. Edward Trovato, however, came out of the bullpen to get a strikeout and strand two runners for a big missed opportunity for the Cougars. Azusa Pacific eventually completed the comeback with a lead-off solo home run from Casey in the bottom of the seventh, marking the third consecutive game in which a team scored the tying or winning run in its final at-bat.
Both teams were held scoreless in the first two frames of extra innings, while freshman Royal Bradley carefully maneuvered his way through a dangerous middle part of the Sea Warrior lineup in the top of the eighth inning, stranding runners at the corners to end the inning. In the 10th inning, the Sea Warriors struck first with a two-run double to centerfield by Chad Bolibol.
Dusty Sanderson led off the bottom half of the inning with a double before Fujimoto struck out the next two batters. Fujimoto was ahead in the count on freshman Joe Huthsing 0-2, but Huthsing battled his way back to work a walk and keep the Cougars’ hopes alive. Pinch-runner Zach DeMarcus took advantage of a 2-0 pitch to Casey in the dirt and advanced to second to put the tying-run in scoring position. The Sea Warriors chose to intentionally walk Casey, who had two home runs earlier in the series. Then it was the Cougars’ turn to take advantage of an intentional walk. After each of the runners advanced on a wild pitch Brown played the role of hero with the game-winning drive into right center.
"That hit couldn’t have gone to a better kid," Svagdis said. "He’s one of the guys that focuses on a hitting process, and works on it every day, and then tries to apply it every game, whether he gets results or not. He made a nice adjustment after a big 3-1 swing. He made a great adjustment because they came back with a fastball away. For him to drive it in the right center gap, I’m really proud of him."
In game one, the Cougars broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning as Danny Gonzales and Andrew Carrillo each drove in a run to take a 3-1 lead. Then Svagdis called on Nate Namanny to lock up the victory for the Cougars in the top of the ninth.
However, the Sea Warrior offense teed off, scoring eight runs in the ninth inning. Catcher Jordan Inamasu hit a two-run home run to tie the game at 3-3 before Hawai`i Pacific poured it on with six more runs to claim the 9-3 victory.
The Cougars are now 13-28 overall (10-18 PWC) with the win and have another four-game series this week beginning on Thursday against Grand Canyon. Hawai`i Pacific will now go to Fresno Pacific to conclude its eight-game California road trip, taking with them a record of 29-17 overall (18-14 PWC).